Merry Christmas

A Maine ideal, for us all

December 24, 2005

A Christmas reading, with the glow of good wishes from the Hood River News:

In Robert P. Tristam Coffin’s “Christmas in Maine,” the writer describes the joy of a Christmas in the country of his boyhood:

“You must have a clear December night, with blue Maine stars snapping like sapphires with the cold, and the big moon flooding full, and lighting up the snowy spruce boughs like crushed diamonds.

“You ought to be wrapped in a buffalo robe to your nose, and be sitting in a family (carriage) and have your breath trailing along with you as you slide over the dry, whistling snow. You will have to sing the songs we sang, ‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’ and ‘Joy to the World,’ and you will be able to see your songs around you in the air like blue smoke…

“I won’t insist on your having a father like ours to drive you home to your Christmas. One with a wide moustache full of icicles and eyes like the stars of the morning. For you won’t have the stories we had by the fireplace. That would be impossible, anyway, for there has been only one of him in the world…

“But you will be able to have the rooms of the farmhouse banked with emerald jewels clustered on bayberry boughs, clumps of everlasting roses with gold spots in the middle of them, tree evergreens and the evergreen that runs all over the Maine woods and every so often puts up a bunch of palm leaves. And there will be rose-hips stuck in pine boughs, and caraway seeds in every crust and cookie in the place.

“The Christmas tree will be there, and it will have a top so high that it will have to be bent over and run along the ceiling of the sitting room.”

In the sights, sounds, smells, and associations of Christmas, Coffin’s remembrance echoes the wistful yet tangible mood of the classic “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by Dylan Thomas.

Both hold forth in fullness the small details of Christmas that many of us have experienced only fleetingly or in part, but the senses they emote give us all a glimpse of joy as satisfying as the Christmas tree train passing into a tunnel, knowing it will round the bend and pass by the steepled church and under the trestle.

In Coffin’s Maine Christmas, we can all relate: “There will be cousins by the cartload. He-ones and she-ones. The size you can sit on and the size that can sit on you. And you will come into the house and down a whole crock of molasses cookies — the kind that go up in peaks in the middle — which somebody was foolish enough to leave the cover off.”

“The whole nation of you in the house will go from one thing to another,” Coffin writes. “The secret of the best Christmases is everybody doing the same things all at the same time.”

May Christmas this year bring you a spirit of togetherness, “in every crust and cookie in the place.”

— With thanks to “A Christmas Treasury,” edited by Jack Newcombe, Viking Press

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